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What is a Forum?

Online photography forums are specialised, interactive websites that like-minded people use to discuss their favourite photography-related subjects.

In essence, a forum is an online community. All communities need members and members join a community to interact with each other. Together, members sustain the community by stimulating conversation and debate and by creating an ever evolving body of information, which other members find interesting and so want to tap into. Over time, members leave, new members join but the community, if it is successful, grows.

What Happens in a Forum?

In most forums, members can start conversations whenever the urge arises but check the rules of the forum to see if there are any posting quotas or criteria you need to adhere to, especially if your messages will include images (these are usually subject to size and quantity limits). A topic may be raised to pose a question, request information or to share an image for other members to enjoy and discuss. As members contribute their thoughts, knowledge and ideas, a topic eventually grows and becomes a detailed conversation.

Generally, members can see all of the topics under discussion, though some may be locked or be restricted to a certain audience. The software on which the forum is based will generally make this obvious: it should also highlight new messages and make it easy for members to filter and sort them by various criteria, such as time/date or author name. It?s a good idea to see if there is a Help section or user guide whenever you?re unsure about something, or use the forum?s search facility to check if someone else has already asked the question you have in mind. If you still can?t find the answer to your question, there?s usually a section of the forum dedicated to questions about the forum itself.

There are probably hundreds of photography forums on the internet: there are big, busy ones; small, niche ones; highly specialised ones and broad, generalised ones. Choosing a forum to join usually comes down to deciding whether or not the content is interesting and you like the nature of the discussion which goes on between members. As a forum grows, it develops its own character. Partly, this is a by-product of the forum?s body of content - the topics, messages, images, articles, tutorials and other information shared by the members. More so, a forum?s character is formed by the outlook, enthusiasm and behaviour of its members.

In the large majority of cases, forums are great fun and they benefit their members by providing a means to allow us, as photographers, to share our work with our peers and seek their critique, feedback and suggestions for improvement. This can be invaluable, especially if you need an answer to a question quickly. Occasionally, problems occur when negative critique is badly worded or received, or when members fundamentally disagree with one another and decide to air their differences in public. In these cases, it falls to the forum staff, usually called moderators (or mods), to resolve the issue and restore calm. In a healthy forum, spats like this rarely break out because the members respect each other and behave as they would in the offline world, even if they don?t entirely agree with everyone else?s point of view.

Here are some tips which will help you get the most of any forums you decide to join:

* Before you publish your first message, read the rules and observe the behaviours of the members

* If there?s a section of the forum for new members to introduce themselves, do so ? it?s a great icebreaker

* Participate! If you don?t, others won?t either and the forum won?t be of use to anyone

* Be confident. Don?t be overwhelmed by the breadth of another member?s knowledge. Everyone has something of value to contribute so do so, even if you think others might know more than you. Doing is part of learning, so it will benefit you each time that you contribute.

* Be friendly, respectful and courteous. Even if you hate an image or an opinion with a passion, say so with tact and be constructive in your feedback so that the author can learn from your skills and experience

* Don?t take comments personally, no matter how personal they appear to be. The written word alone is not very effective at conveying the full meaning of something and you may well be misinterpreting the author?s intent

* Critique is entirely subjective ? it?s someone?s opinion which may or may not mean something to you. Treat members who provide you with critique with respect ? after all, they took the time to provide you with feedback

* Provide more feedback than you receive. Your fellow members will value your contributions even more highly if you take the time to look at theirs

* Have fun! You?re doing this because you want to, not because you have to

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